While I’m certainly not celebrating the move by Delta Air Lines to make basic economy fares far less attractive, I do not blame it for eliminating a benefit that made these fares more attractive than necessary to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers.
What Is the Theory Behind A Basic Economy Ticket?
There are two ways we can look at basic economy fares. In the negative sense, they are simply a way to offer less service for the same price, since basic economy class fares generally replace the cheapest fares in a market rather than offer even-lower fares.
But in a positive sense, they are a valuable tool for legacy carriers like Alaska, American, Delta, and United to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit in a way that still offers consumers a better alternative than flying a budget airline.
Take a flight from Florida to New York. Delta’s basic economy class fare is highly-restricted, but includes access to:
- carry-on baggage
- personal in-flight-entertainment at each seat
- wi-fi internet
- power plugs + USB ports
- roomier seats
- complimentary snacks and drinks
Currently, basic economy tickets on Delta earn both redeemable Delta SkyMiles and count towards Delta SkyMiles Medallion status.
That adds up to create a decent incentive to fly Delta over Spirit when the price is about the same, even for the most budget-conscious traveler.
Delta Eliminates Earning Award Miles + Status On Delta Basic Economy Tickets, Allows Changes (With Fee)
But Delta announced this week it is cutting back some long-established benefits of basic economy fares.
As of January 1, 2022, basic economy tickets on Delta will no longer earn redeemable Delta SkyMiles nor count towards Delta SkyMiles Medallion status if booked after December 9, 2021. As before, these fares are not eligible for upgrades and seats cannot be assigned until check-in.
But Delta also announced that instead of being “use it or lose it,” basic economy tickets will be changeable against a fee ranging from $99-199 depending upon place of purchase and travel destination.
That will leave a $0 value in some cases, but is still better than simply forfeiting tickets that cannot be used.
Through January 31, 2022 a change-fee waiver is in place on all fares, including basic economy fares. However, that waiver will soon end.
This Is A Reasonable Approach By Delta
While the two concepts underlying basic economy fares are not mutually exclusive, I don’t blame Delta for trying to cut back the benefits of these fares…because it can get away with it.
This isn’t like devaluing SkyMiles awards without notice, which represents a stab in the back to loyal customers, some of whom spend years saving miles for a dream trip.
Rather, this represents a reasonable trade-off to reduce liability (in terms of mileage and status) while still offering a more compelling product than on any of the U.S. budget carriers. It is not retroactive in that it does not punish bookings made prior to the announcement.
The package is no longer as sweet, but if the price is similar you are still getting a far better deal buying a basic economy class ticket on Delta Air Lines (or American or United) than on Frontier or Spirit.
There is no need to celebrate Delta’s latest change to basic economy class tickets, but the move makes sense and should not be taken as an affront. Basic economy class fares are intended to battle budget carriers. Ironically, those budget carriers may award both status and redemption points on tickets, but won’t include a number of other things that make the product more humane.
Bottom line: I’d still choose Delta basic economy any day and twice on Sunday over Frontier or Spirit.
Just continues the race to the bottom for Delta. IN no way are they the premium US airline now. They have fallen below AA even
1. No hot meals on most domestic first class flights
2. PE service downgraded to standard economy service, including the meals (why do they even sell premium select any more, just sell those seats as comfort plus at this point, with the extra legroom seats as preferred, just as they do for domestic flights)
3. Their international upgrade now basically only processing to get a better economy seat (yes, PS at this point is simply a better seat in the economy cabin, no matter what Delta says)
4. Eliminating any status or miles benefits on BE tickets
Agree 100%. I’m in the middle of a DL status challenge for Platinum right now (from AA EXP), and they’ve really disappointed me. Nothing about the product is spectacular, I’ve had virtually no upgrades clear, crew are as indifferent as AA, and my goodness, the Sky Clubs are packed to the gills at all times. The one in AUS is gross, it smells like a baseball stadium. I’ll take Plat status for a year, but it’s back to AA for me the second I cross that threshold.
The refund for future credit makes sense but the lack of elite and mileage accrual shows exactly what Delta thinks of even intensely loyal customers who just don’t spend enough. That’s a big middle finger to loyal customers who aren’t on fat expense accounts.
Agree with you Matthew. Basic Economy is a tool to let legacy airlines compete more effectively with low-cost airlines- something consumers benefit massively from! Eliminating mileage earning is imminently reasonable, and as you correctly point out, a basic economy ticket on DL/AA/UA is still massively preferable to F9/NK.
The removal of miles is just plain silly- a reduced accrual rate would reduce liability while retaining an incentive for people to not book on price alone. However, I understand that DL miles aren’t considered very valuable, so perhaps they are resigned to the fact that a few hundred miles here and there wouldn’t swing many purchasing decisions.
Agree with your take, these tickets are to fill seats with customers who are price shopping. Many of whom don’t even look at the details and additional fees with the budget carriers. And it certainly gives the flyer a much better shot of getting to their destination on time compared to Spirit and Frontier.
I wouldn’t think many of your readers purchase these fares anyways.
I purchased United basic economy for my 84 year old mother to fly in for a visit. I can just see some of you getting the torches and pitchforks out. Wait! Allow me to explain myself!
It was a direct flight and she was comfortable. I wouldn’t have dared to trust her to Frontier. I got double points by buying the ticket on my United Mileageplus credit card but she didn’t qualify for the free checked bag and as an added bonus, she didn’t fit all the junk she wanted to bring for my daughter (the daughter doesn’t need it.)
All that said, I agree it’s a win-win for (most) in that it halts the race to the bottom by filling up seats on the legacy carriers that need the income.
But I do see a downside which is that some business travelers may be pushed into a basic economy fare by their travel department which may exclude budget carriers for operational reasons (do they want to save $50 and have them late for training or a business meeting?) but require them to take the lowest available fare for a particular time and route. They may quietly choose another accepted airline for a different route or time that awards the miles which is what FF miles were created for in the first place.
I disagree. Delta wants repeat customers. Therefore, it should offer some miles to basic economy passengers. Already, a SFO-JFK trip, which is approximately 2600 miles results in just a few miles but that is an incentive.
Due to the pandemic causing me to eventually lose status on all airlines, I intend to burn lots of miles even on domestic economy when I resume flying. After that, Delta will be a middle tier airline as far as personal choice.
I just had another thought about human psychology:
This is inconceivable to many here, but the majority of people I know don’t have a FF mileage account. I know, but keep in mind that most don’t fly often, they don’t have loyalty to a carrier, etc. They don’t think that they’ll use that airline again in the near future to bother setting up the account.
Consequently, depriving them of the ability to earn FF miles doesn’t save United a dime.
But the person who does bother to sign up will be psychologically motivated by them to make it worthwhile. My wife will buy things at Starbucks just to qualify for some points promotion. People go to black friday and find their item is missing but they buy something else anyway.
If Delta merely awarded a fraction of miles, that would provide even a psychological incentive for those people motivated by such factors to consider them ahead of the competition even as redemption cost/value is minimal. It would also perhaps inspire them to fly higher class of fares, like many here, to get more points.
People buying up E fares aren’t chasing status. Personally I never bought an E fare. This does not affect me
While it probably affects few here in the short term, the question that remains is whether this is yet another indication of the slow degradation of loyalty programs over the long term. I think it is. Delta, and others, are slowly chipping away to assure that in a few years loyalty will be a distant memory. Bottom line is that with only four major carriers in the country there is no incentive left to care about loyalty, or reward anyone for it. There are plenty of passengers for the few carriers left without having to give them anything in return.
Maybe not an affront to you. It is a MAJOR affront to me, who is gold medallion, spent 3-6k a year on delta, and always buy BE.
So Delta, i won’t buy another ticket from you beside with miles or when I get 20%+ discount on delta GCs. I’d rather drive 100 miles to catch an AA flight than rewarding your pathetic affront.
As someone who travels almost exclusively for business, this makes it harder to use delta. I would have to justify a different fare class to reach my work destination for every trip (hint, I won’t be doing that) just to continue to get the same benefits which kept me loyal enough to get to diamond (!). Now, if average work trips don’t get me status, then I am extremely incentivized to look elsewhere. C’mon delta, I wanted to keep using you! I actually like you!